The following is a draft chapter of Brandon’s unfinished novel Mythwalker from 2001. Brandon later repurposed some elements of this story into Warbreaker, Mistborn, and The Way of Kings.
Vvenna woke to an incredible headache. She nearly moaned in pain. Fortunately, two decades of training kept her from breaking Posture. Instead, she did the same thing she did every time she woke—she lay for a few moments, composing herself, waiting for her mind to clear so that she wouldn’t say or do anything awkward.
As her mind crisped, her memory returned. She had been kidnapped in her own rooms. Several dark, hulking forms had come for her, appearing from the night like horrible minions of the Demon God. Even worse, they had dared strike a Kkoloss woman—Vvenna could feel the throbbing bump on the back of her head.
And now where was she? Carefully, she risked opening her eyes. Darkness surrounded her. She was in some sort of cart or carriage—she could feel the wooden planks underneath her and the rolling wheels to her sides. However, she could neither see nor move—she was covered with a tarp, and her hands were securely tied to a small metal knob above her head. The air was musty beneath the tarp, and the entire area smelt of refuse, dirt, and horses.
The indecency of her situation was enough to leave Vvenna stunned. Not only was she Kkoloss, not only was she a princess, but she was the Emperor’s betrothed. Such things were not points of arrogance to Vvenna—they were simple facts. Did these poor kidnappers understand the blasphemy they had performed? Did they know of the Ki-Ssu they were incurring? They must. But who would dare such a thing?
The Eruntu Rebellion. The answer came unbidden to her mind, along with the frightful images Siri had told her. Images of Kkoloss—King, child, and woman alike—laying in their own blood.
Terror rose in Vvenna’s chest, and she felt herself begin to shiver despite the musty heat. She had been taken by the rebellion. Even when Siri had told her what she had seen, Vvenna hadn’t completely believed the girl—sometimes Siri had a tendency to exaggerate. Now, being held beneath the smelly tarp, Vvenna finally believed. Men who would treat the Vessel in such a way were blasphemers of the worst kind. They would slaughter her for certain.
It was impossible to imagine that anyone would be so callous, but her own capture was proof enough. Though she tried not to think about it, words rose from her memory—words that few Kkoloss had heard, or even read.
A thousand years have passed. The Mythwalker will rise again. And so, therefore, may the Demon God. Oh, Hess, protect me . . .
Could she be in their clutches at that moment? Followers of the Demon God? Desicrates and Shadow Spinners? Worship of the Demon God had been forbidden for ten centuries, but there were still rumors. Rumors of those who called upon the Living Darkness and sent it on their bidding. And if the Demon God were preparing to return . . . Suddenly, her plight seemed even more dire. She had heard stories of what the Demon God’s worshippers did to their captives.
Even as terror threatened her, Vvenna’s training came to her defense. Emotions, wild and unpredictable, were locked away. Her body—a thing that had never truly belonged to her—came under control again, and her shivering stopped. She lay motionless, composing herself.
Lines of text, forced into her mind from a young age, were as easy for Vvenna to remember as her own name. There were pages of rules written about what she was supposed to do if she were taken captive—the Holy Interdictions planned for every eventuality. She was required to maintain Posture, not reacting, no matter what her captors did. She was to eat and otherwise maintain herself until her inevitable rescue. At that time, she would be required to tell the priests truthfully whether or not she had been violated, so they might know whether she had become unworthy of her station.
The words and rules were a weak comfort, but they were all she had. She would do as she had always been trained—she would maintain Posture and wait. Either these rebels would kill her or they wouldn’t. Somehow, she thought that death would be preferable to other possibilities.
Voko trudged along beside Hine and Devin, leading them toward the wooded grove where he had told Ralan to meet him. It was growing increasingly light, but fortunately there didn’t seem to be any signs of pursuit from the city. The fire had grown larger than he intended, and hundreds of forms buzzed below, smothering it. It was almost out. After that, they would have to worry.
Hopefully, Ralan and the others had escaped. Voko had watched their stolen cart as it rolled out the gate—they had escaped before word reached the guards. Skeer had complained when Voko insisted on going back, but Voko had ignored him. He didn’t like leaving his companions behind—that was one of the first lessons he had learned in life. Even a thief has to be able to depend on someone; unilateral distrust is a fast road to insanity and paranoia. A man never abandons his companions—that much has to be firm.
Of course, Voko thought with a grimace of self-disgust, I’m not much of a thief anymore, am I? He had been practically useless on the kidnapping trip. He’d failed to open the lock, he’d tripped at least a half-dozen times while trying to sneak, and he’d taken forever to climb the rope. It would have been better to leave him behind.
Voko’s eyes shot down, noting his pudgy fingers and squat legs as he walked. Once, not long ago, he had been the most lithe and dexterous thief in the capital. He’d been able to walk unheard across a floor full of broken glass, and could sneak the money-pouch off of even the most suspicious of pickpockets. Now he could barely make it to the privy without tripping over his own toes.
But, of course, he had none to blame but himself. Swearing the Kkell-oath had seemed like a pretty good idea at the time. At least now he could crack nuts with his fingers.
“There you are!” an annoyed voice proclaimed. Voko looked up, as did the others. A perturbed Skeer was standing a short distance away.
“I was about to go back for you,” Skeer explained. “Of course, I knew you’d make it. The Glorious Rebellion will not be halted!”
Voko eyed the tall man. Skeer waved them forward, dashing back toward a grove of trees. Voko wasn’t certain why Devin didn’t just get rid of the Skeer; he was such a pain. Why, back in the days, a swift knife to the guts would have been the perfect answer. . . .
No, Voko reminded himself. I’m not like that anymore. There was more than one reason he had abandoned his old profession.
“We can get out of here now, Ralan,” Skeer yelled into the grove. Devin shook his head—if anyone were following them, Skeer’s yells would certainly give them away. The three followed Skeer into the trees, where they could see a smiling Ralan and a relieved Ix waiting for them.
Ix clasped Devin on the shoulder with joy. “I am very glad you returned, Friend Devin,” he confided. “As a human, I am very prone to worrying about things that I cannot control.”
Devin smiled, though on the inside he felt tired, bruised, and even a little woozy. There would be time for rest later, however. He acknowledged Ralan’s wave, then nodded approvingly toward the cart. “Where did you get the carts, Voko?”
“Oh, here and there,” the short man said with a smile.
Devin hopped up onto the back of the cart and pulled off the tarp. Then he jumped back with surprise—he hadn’t expected to find her awake.
The princess lay on her back, her arms tied behind her head. She lay perfectly motionless, her silken nightdress crumpled and her brilliant red hair in a disarray. Her face, however, was perfectly composed, and she regarded Devin with stern, flat eyes.
“That’s a Kkoloss woman all right,” Voko said with a snort.
Devin crouched on the edge of the cart, regarding his captive uncertainly. She didn’t struggle, she didn’t kick, she just remained perfectly still, her face emotionless. It almost seemed like she were sitting on a throne in her palace, rather than tied like an animal in the back of a rickety cart.
She was much younger than he had assumed—barely out of her teens, if even that old. She was beautiful, of course—all Kkoloss women were supposed to be. Hearing so and seeing one were completely different things. She was slight of build, and taller than any woman he had ever seen. Her hair, even disheveled as it was, was amazing—Devin had seen colored hair on men before, but it looked much different on a woman.
“So,” Hine said, leaning against the side of the cart. “We’ve got her. Now what?”
Devin paused. “Back to camp, I suppose.”
“That cart’s not going to do well in the woods,” Voko pointed out.
He was right. There was no way they were going to be able to take the cart all the way back to camp. But that could mean knocking the princess unconscious again—something he was loath to approve.
“I guess we’ll just have to rap her on the head again,” Skeer announced. “Hine, be about it and we’ll get out of here.”
Hine snorted in a way that implied he’d sooner rap Skeer, then turned toward Devin’s eyes. There was resolution in the man’s face—he would keep his oath not to harm a Kkoloss. But would he stop them from trying to do so? He hadn’t been in much of a position to complain last time.
Deciding that someone had better do something, Devin gritted his teeth and approached the woman. The cart’s boards creaked beneath him as he squatted down beside her.
“I’m sorry you have to be treated like this,” he said. “I meant what I said to you before—it is not our intention to hurt you. As long as you don’t endanger any of my friends I promise that you will not be harmed. However, I have to ask you not to do what you did before—you nearly crushed one of my companions. Do you understand?”
The woman met his eyes, but she gave no other indication. They were strong eyes—calm eyes. Uncertain if he was doing the right thing, he drew his sword and sliced the woman’s hands free. Skeer immediately yelped in surprise—as if he expected her to magically slay them all now that she was free.
Devin stepped back, resheathing his sword. The woman regarded him for a moment, then she slowly rose to her feet, standing stiffly. Her red nightgown was hardly decent clothing, especially dirtied as it was. However, she stood proudly, her hands clasped in front of her, her chin raised.
“Step out of the cart,” Devin requested.
She did as directed, following him down onto the ground. She was about two inches taller than he was, which put her at about six feet exactly. Devin retrieved a bit of rope from the front of the cart, then walked back to where the woman stood surrounded by several nervous Eruntu.
“Hold out your hands,” Devin said.
The woman complied.
Devin took her hands, and she immediately stiffened. Her face didn’t twitch, however, as he began to tie the hands together. He had just begun the knot when the seizure began.
Devin gasped in surprise, then gritted his teeth. It was a short one, but the trembling made it impossible to continue tying, and he dropped the rope.
“Devin?” Voko asked with concern. “Are you all right?”
“Fine,” Devin said, taking a breath and retrieving the rope. What had he learned this time? As he stood, he noticed that Hine was regarding him carefully. Devin moved to try tying the woman’s hands again, and this time his fingers moved quickly, tying a knot he hadn’t ever seen before.
Knot tying, Devin said, standing back and shaking his head. That’s an odd one.
“All right, let’s go,” Devin said. He’d intentionally chosen a rope long enough that one end could be tied to her hands and the other could form a kind of leash, which Devin tied to his own hand.
“Finally,” Skeer said. “Let’s hurry—I’m getting hungry. I hope you have something fantastic—and quick—planned for lunch, Devin.”
Devin simply sighed and began to trudge toward the forest proper, towing the Kkoloss woman behind.
Siri barely felt the touch, but she easily heard the quick intake of breath, the groan of pleasure. She immediately pulled away, looking up in surprise. She had been dozing on the plush couch in Vvenna’s quarters, waiting for news of the princess. Now she was confronted by the unnerving sight of Ssunder Vas Sserin standing above her, his close-cropped hair bright red, his smile of enjoyment just inches from her face.
“Hello, Siri,” he whispered, reaching for her hand again.
Siri jumped back, climbing maladroitly over the back of the couch and looking anxiously for some source of aid. Fortunately, one of the Guards walked in at that moment, and Ssunder turned away from her, chuckling softly to himself. He would never dare touch her before another person.
“My Lord,” the Guard captain said, bowing. “My men would like to know if we may return to our quarters.”
“Not yet,” Ssunder informed, striding across the room. “The King has left instructions that no one leave the princess’s quarters. We will let you know when you may return.”
“Yes, My Lord,” the captain said with a bow. He returned to the small room—Vvenna’s sitting room—he and his men were occupying. As he left, Siri caught sight of the wounded man laying on the floor, his arm now bandaged. Why were these men being detained?
Siri rose, fleeing as the Guard left. Ssunder continued to chuckle behind her as she sought refuge in the handmaidens’ quarters. Inside the room, ten confused women sat, pretending to be in control, but looking as frightened now as they had when they had learned their mistress had vanished. They also had been forbidden to leave.
“My Lady,” one of them—Sara, a member of the Sixth Sept—said as soon as Siri entered. “Is there any news? Has Lady Vvenna been located?”
“I’m not certain,” Siri admitted.
The handmaidens shared looks of disappointment, then turned back to their quiet conversations.
Something is going on, Siri decided with a frown, standing beside the closed door. They must not have found Vvenna. But why try to keep it a secret? The entire castle obviously knew something had happened—Siri had heard the commotion.
A door opened in the room next door, and Siri perked up. News? She leaned closer, cracking the door slightly so she could hear. The other women gave her frowns of displeasure—eavesdropping was not a very ladylike activity—but Siri ignored them.
“My King,” Ssunder said next door, his voice reverent.
“Are they all still here?” a proud voice asked.
Siri froze. The second voice sounded familiar, but it wasn’t the King’s. It sounded more like . . . Her eyes opened wide, and she cracked the door a little farther.
Prince Sarn Vas Sserin stood before the kneeling Ssunder. Except, it wasn’t Sarn—not the Sarn Siri knew. He had grown taller by at least half a foot, and his muscular frame had grown even more powerful. He wore a brilliant red set of Amberite armor—the King’s armor.
Dunn Vas Sserin was dead. Sarn was now King.
Oh, Hess! Siri thought with amazement, pulling back from the door, her face flushing with surprise. Dunn was dead. The Kkell Leadership had passed to a new man. The male Septs had been rearranged.
But what happened? Siri thought with amazement. When had the King died? And then she remembered Sarn just a few hours before—she remembered how he had suddenly stopped mid-sentence, his body shaking slightly. He had rushed from the room with a look of concern on his face.
That boy—the rebel. He lied to me! He wasn’t here just to get the princess; that was just a distraction. Their real purpose was to kill the King!
The rebellion had slaughtered two Kings in just over a month. These Eruntu were a dangerous group indeed.
“. . . found anything?” Prince Sarn was saying. Siri forced herself to keep listening, pushing worries from her mind for the moment so she could focus on the conversation.
“Nothing, Your Majesty,” Ssunder replied. “We searched the entire city—there was no sign of her or her captors. I assume our next move will be to scour the forest?”
There was silence for a moment. “No,” Sarn eventually decided. “Not yet.”
Siri frowned, and Ssunder’s next comment echoed her confusion. “My Lord?” he asked uncertainly.
“House Sserin is in a very difficult position, Ssunder,” Sarn’s firm voice explained. “Even if we do recover the princess, there will be allegations that she is no longer clean. The Priesthood could very likely choose another in her stead—perhaps even a woman from a different House.”
“But, My Lord, how will it help if we don’t recover her?” Ssunder asked.
“It will help if no one knows she was taken,” Sarn said slowly.
“My Lord?” Ssunder asked with surprise.
Sarn gave a reply, but it was spoken too quietly for Siri to hear. She strained, trying to make out Sarn’s mumbled words. After just a moment, however, he spoke up again. “Bring her, and meet me in the King’s study.”
“Yes, My Lord,” a disturbed-sounding Ssunder replied.
Siri frowned, listening as Sarn left the room. A second later, a knock came just inches from where Siri’s head rested beside the door. She yelped slightly despite herself, and pulled back just as the door opened.
Ssunder’s eyes fell on Siri, and he frowned slightly, noticing her proximity to the door. The collected handmaidens pulled back slightly in surprise—their quarters were supposed to be impervious to masculine invasion. However, there were no protests—after what had happened this night, little seemed sacred anymore.
“You,” Ssunder said, pointing as Siri. “Come with me.”
Siri’s eyes opened slightly at the brashness of his words. Ssunder didn’t even seem to notice his own lack of courtesy—his eyes were unsettled. Whatever Prince—King—Sarn had told him must have been disturbing indeed.
“Now,” Ssunder said, meeting her eyes. His hand flinched slightly, as if to reach out for her, but he held himself back. There were others watching. “The King wants to see you.”
“I’m not prepared for such a—”
“That isn’t important,” Sarn said. “Let’s go.”
Siri paused, then nodded and waved for two of the lesser-Sept handmaidens to provide her an escort.
Ssunder held up his hand. “No,” he said. “You come alone, Lady Siri.”
Siri opened her mouth to protest, but Ssunder quieted her with a look. After what had happened this night, he was obviously not in a mood for courtesy or playing.
“All right,” Siri said quietly. Take the Ki-Ssu upon yourself. See if I care. I doubt paradise is fit for you anyway.
Ssunder led the way out of the handmaiden’s quarters. Siri could hear their conversations begin immediately behind her—the handmaidens commenting on the oddness of her leaving alone with a man.
Siri followed Ssunder out of Vvenna’s quarters and through the red-Amberite palace hallways. It was a testament to his level of concern that he didn’t once attempt to grab her hand or touch her.
The King’s study was a small chamber with its own access doors. Siri had never visited it, though she had often been to the Queen’s study in Vvenna’s company. The room looked much as she would have expected. It was well-decorated, like most rooms in the palace, and it still bore the touches of the former King—Dunn had been well-known for his patronage of local Kkoloss artists. King Sarn stood inside, still wearing his father’s armor—though it didn’t yet fit properly, it still lent him an air of authority. Any who saw him would immediately know what had happened.
Siri entered slowly, a slight frown on her face. She quickly hid the emotion, however, bowing to the King. “You wanted me, Your Majesty?” she asked uncertainly.
Sarn ignored her question, instead strolling forward to look her over with a discriminating eye.
“This is very dangerous, Your Majesty,” Ssunder said. “Your father would never have agreed to it.”
“My father was a cautious man,” Sarn said. “Too cautious, sometimes. We need the influence the wedding will provide.”
“We can get Lady Vvenna back, My Lord,” Ssunder promised. “The wedding can be postponed.”
Sarn shook his head. “Only at the expense of lost face.” He paused, his eyes growing hard. “Besides,” he added, “they obviously plan to obtain some sort of influence over House Sserin with this move. They killed our King and stole our princess in one swoop. They will expect us to be off-balance. I will show them the true strength and power of the Kkoloss race, dear Ssunder. I will ignore them. Then I will destroy them.”
“And, the Archpriest?” Ssunder asked slowly.
“Hasm?” Sarn said, pausing slightly. “He already knows too much about the dealings of this House. We need not inform him of this event.”
“Yes, your majesty,” Ssunder said, bowing his head.
Siri listened to their conversation with growing concern. What was going on?
“She does look a great deal like the princess, doesn’t she, Ssunder?” Sarn said, eyeing Siri again.
Siri froze, her jaw dropping slightly. They couldn’t possibly be thinking of . . .
The door to the rooms burst open, and a tall form moved through them. Queen Veca Mas Sserin was a thin, gaunt woman whose face was typically Kkoloss, but whose eyes always seemed to have an edge of loathing for those around her. However, despite that fact, she was one of the most beautiful women alive. It was the promise of that beauty in Vvenna that had helped win House Sserin the right to marry her daughter to the Emperor.
Veca turned eyes over those in the room, pausing briefly on Sarn. She nodded to her Guards, and the two men bowed, then stepped outside the door, closing it to leave them alone.
Once that was done, Veca turned to Sarn. “It is true then?” she assumed.
“It is,” Sarn replied.
Veca nodded her head slightly. “My King,” she said, a slight formal tone to her voice.
Sarn nodded back, his response equally formal. “My Queen.”
“You will have to choose a wife soon, King Sarn,” Veca suggested. “It isn’t fitting for a House Leader to be unwedded.”
Sarn waved his hand, the moment’s formality broken. “Do not lecture me, woman. We are equals now, and I am well aware of my duties.”
Veca’s eyes flickered to Siri. “This one?” she asked.
Sarn shook his head. “No, she is to be used for a different purpose. Tell me, Veca. Have you visited your daughter this night?”
The Queen grew stiff, a brief look of concern crossing her face. “No,” she said simply.
Sarn smiled slightly as he noted her concern—few people could produce a visible reaction in Queen Veca.
“What has happened, Sarn?” Veca demanded.
Sarn shrugged airily. “My father was not the rebellion’s only target.”
The Queen’s face grew worried—Siri had never seen such open emotion from her. She spun, pushing Siri aside and moving to stalk out the door.
“Don’t bother.” Sarn’s voice interrupted her. “I have left orders for the Guards at the door. They won’t let anyone into Vvenna’s rooms, not even you.”
Veca turned slightly, her face showing a hint of anger. She quickly gained control, however, and instead regarded him with typical Kkoloss quietude.
“What is your purpose, Sarn?” she demanded.
“The wedding will proceed as expected,” Sarn informed. “You will prepare this girl as if she were the princess, and produce her as the Emperor’s bride.”
Veca regarded Sarn with stunned eyes, breaking her Posture for the second time. “You aren’t serious,” she whispered.
“Oh, I am,” Sarn affirmed. “Lady Vvenna has worn the half-veil of a betrothed woman since she was a child—even I, her royal-brother, don’t really know what she looked like. No one will be able to tell the difference between this girl and the princess.”
“This is foolishness, Sarn,” Veca spat. “I will not go along with it.”
“Oh, you will,” Sarn corrected. “Your daughter is dead, my queen, and with her dies your influence in court. Tell me you haven’t enjoyed life these last twenty years? Tell me you haven’t relished the favored position, the courtly envy, the Ssu you gained because your daughter was to be the Emperor’s bride? Will you abandon all of that, simply because of one night’s assassinations?”
Veca paused. “Dead?” she finally asked.
“Dead,” Sarn affirmed. “Lord Ssunder here found her body.”
“I did,” Ssunder affirmed without missing a step.
Siri blinked in surprise. She knew that falsehoods were common in the court, but never had she seen one so blatant. But, she reminded herself, they don’t know that I heard them talking.
“I will see the body, then,” Veca announced.
“My Lady . . .” Ssunder said slowly. “The princess had been . . . violated before being killed. I disposed of the body before anyone else could witness the indecency.”
The Queen paled slightly. Then, she turned to regard Siri.
You forget your daughter so easily? Siri thought with surprise. Of course, that was the Kkoloss way. Veca would mourn later—right now, political necessity was far more important.
“They will never believe,” the Queen guessed.
“They will,” Sarn corrected. “Especially if you prepare her. The only ones who would recognize Vvenna are yourself and the princess’s own handmaidens. If, instead, your handmaidens were to prepare this girl for the wedding, no one would know.”
“Wait,” Siri objected, finally daring voice her opinion. “What about me? I have no desire to pretend I’m Vvenna—that’s even assuming I could manage it! Think about the Ki-Ssu! Besides, Vvenna prepared for decades to—” Siri trailed off as all eyes in the room focused on her, their eyes harsh.
Suddenly she realized that this time, she had gone too far. Sarn and Veca were of the First Sept, Ssunder of the Second. All things considered, Siri was still only of the Fourth. Vvenna had suffered her outspokenness; the others would not do likewise.
Sarn raised his hand, as if to hit her, and Siri shied back in surprise. He held himself, however. Had he connected, he would have left a massive bruise—assuming he didn’t kill her. Both actions would have left her useless for his goals.
“Be glad I need you,” he said simply, lowering his hand. “You will do as told; we are King and Queen of this House.” He didn’t even wait for her acknowledgement, instead turning to the queen. “It will work,” he promised.
Veca’s eyes were quiet, contemplative. “And if the Archpriests discover our ruse?”
“Then we will lose face and the girl will be executed,” Sarn said flatly.
Veca nodded. Then she turned to regard Siri for a moment. Siri stood uncertainly, overwhelmed by the day’s events. The wedding would have been bad enough, but now . . . Vvenna had been kidnapped, the King murdered, and Siri herself was being faced by an order from both the King and the Queen. Even she couldn’t order so direct a commandment.
Defy him! Siri urged in her mind, looking into the queen’s eyes.
“All right,” Veca finally said, turning back to Sarn. “It shall be as you say. But if this be discovered, Sarn, then you will be remembered for all time as Sserin’s greatest embarrassment.”
“If I succeed, My Queen,” Sarn replied quietly. “Then I will be remembered as the continent’s greatest hero.”
Veca frowned at this, her eyes discerning, but a little confused. Finally, she simply turned to Siri. “Come, child,” she said, pulling open the door.
Siri paused. Could she really do this? She hated the Emperor—she would not marry him! But what else did she have left? Vevinn was dead. Vvenna was gone. All the force of Kkoloss tradition, all that she had been taught, demanded that she do as Sarn and Veca ordered.
It came down to the good of the House. And, behind all the rebellion, the lack of courtesy, and the complaining, Siri was loyal to her House. Every Kkoloss was.
In the end, however, one thought let her to follow Veca from the room, moving as commanded. She knew that whatever else happened, at least Vvenna was free. The princess wouldn’t have to marry the Emperor. Someone else would take her place—that was enough.
Even if that someone else happened to be Siri.